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Published October 20, 2013, 01:15 PM

Local ag groups assist in building elementary school’s produce garden

Agriculture is a way of life in North Dakota, and agricultural groups in Grand Forks are reaching out to young children to make sure it stays that way.

By: Will Powell, Agweek

Agriculture is a way of life in North Dakota, and agricultural groups in Grand Forks are reaching out to young children to make sure it stays that way.

In Spring 2013, Century Elementary School in Grand Forks started its own school garden with funding from an Action Communities for Health, Innovation, and Environmental Change grant, the Grand Forks Soil Conservation District, NDSU Extension Service and its Junior Master Gardener program, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the parents of Century School children. Children of all grades participated in building the garden, which included two raised garden beds and fifteen varieties of vegetables. According to Tracy Jentz, a spokesperson for Grand Forks Public Schools, signs that explained the nutritional value of each planted vegetable were placed on the garden site.

“The goals of the program were to teach the kids about gardening, get them physically active and outside, and also to get fresh produce into the school lunch lines for the children,” says Carrie Knutson, an NDSU Extension agent who assisted in the garden’s planning and maintenance. Knutson says Century Elementary school parents, specifically agricultural expert Leah Grendell, played a critical role in the success of the garden’s 2013 spring planting.

“We tried broccoli and cauliflower this year. The broccoli kind of produced well, we haven’t really gotten anything from the cauliflower yet. We planted lots of carrots and tomatoes. New this year was the corn and pumpkins, which we tried in the no-till plots. We tried celery, and that didn’t grow so well, and also spinach and lettuce ... I think there was something that liked the little plants and kept eating them. They never emerged,” Knutson says.

During the spring, children at Century, their parents, and NDSU mentors met at the garden to assist in its care. Jentz says the goal of getting children active in the planting phase of the garden’s creation was to teach children about no-till gardening, soil biology, root systems and water infiltration.

Garden to plate

Produce from Century’s garden is served weekly during “School Garden to Your Plate” days.

“Throughout the summer, things ripened. We had tomatoes in August and zucchini in August. Cucumbers, the kids just got to take home. Leah would go in and harvest it all when school started, and put the tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers in the school lunch line,” Knutson says. “They [the plants] have been harvested into the school lunch line. They’ve had produce in there, we also planted popcorn and pumpkins that the teachers will use in school lessons ... we got a rain barrel installed and up and running to water the garden.

“Within the next month, the garden will probably be done producing for the year ... we’re going to clean off the dead plant material and let it rest so that we can plant again next year.”

Plans for the 2014 planting season at Century’s garden will be more ambitious than 2013’s planting season.

“We’d like to concentrate more on involving literature in with the garden, and with education,” Knutson says. “We also kind of started a fruit orchard at Century this year to go along with the vegetable garden. We planted apple trees and plum trees, and eventually, when those start to produce fruit, they’ll go into the lunch line, as well.”

All parties involved with the garden are pleased with its results, and Century Elementary hopes the garden will be the basis of a new 4-H Gardening Club. NDSU Extension is uncertain if Century’s gardening program will spread to other Grand Forks Public Schools.

“It helps youth relate to agriculture, just to let them know that agriculture is gardening on a larger scale,” Knutson says. “The kids develop a passion for gardening, and eating healthy fruits and vegetables.”

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